Ego. It’s the force that drives us. It’s the psychological phenomenon that enables each of us to pursue our aspirations – whether they be getting the football across the goal line or nailing that monster account. According to Sigmund Freud, the ego is the key component of our psyches, empowering us to manage day-to-day realities.
In the everyday lexicon, however, ego has come to be more closely associated with attitude. Do perennial top producers have super-sized egos or do they just appear that way? It’s hard to imagine a top advisor being overly humble or withdrawn.
While they may outwardly flaunt their success among peers at the annual sales conference or around the office, when it comes to client contact are they actually capable of managing their ego or, better yet, controlling it and using it to their advantage?
“It’s absolutely vital to have confidence in this business,” says Bob Enright, a San Francisco-area wealth manager with the Burton-Enright Group. “While you cannot let your ego run out of control to the point where your head won’t fit through the door, clients want to see confidence in their advisor. If you’re not completely knowledgeable and comfortable with your recommendations, they’ll sense this and you’ll pay for it.”
Drew J. Stevens Ph.D., president of Eureka, Mo.-based consulting firm, Getting to the Finish Line and who counts American International Group and the Federal Reserve Bank as clients, agrees. “A healthy ego vs. a strong/overpowering ego is typically one that is capable of booking substantial business and gaining multiple orders,” he says. “No one ever frowns on confidence, yet there is a clich?(C) on Wall Street, ?You’re only as good as your last trade.’ Egotism can only last so long.”
But if a certain ego level can be healthy and productive, how does one keep it at the right level? “There’s a big difference between confidence and cockiness,” advises executive coach Stefanie Smith. “The former drives sales, the latter drives clients away.” It sounds obvious, but it can be easily overlooked.
Nearly every advisor feels at one time like he’s made a thousand cold calls, only to receive an equal number of rejections, or had a large turnout at a costly seminar only to learn the entire audience attended for the free lunch. Your direct mail package may have resulted in no responses. The prospect you met with several times suddenly walks away because an outsider told him he didn’t need your services despite the logic of your case. It’s easy to see how one’s ego can take a beating. It’s not as easy to see why those who survive in this business not only bounce back from rejection but grow from it.
“Rejection is an opportunity to analyze client behavior, learn more and turn a negative into a positive,” says Michael J. Guzzo, an advisor in Medford, N.Y. with a large senior clientele. “While your ego shows confidence, you cannot let it get in the way of the client, who has to come first. Ask about the client’s needs, present a sensible plan and explain the reasoning behind your recommendations. Giving the client what he needs is the true royal treatment.” When a sudden rejection derails what looked like a promising sale, Guzzo recommends maintaining focus and communication.
“Sincerely ask the prospect what went wrong. Do not be confrontational. There could be something [serious] that you were not aware of, like a sudden change in the client’s employment status, or something frivolous like an intrusive relative,” Guzzo advises. “Ask if you could meet again in the near future. They’ll usually agree. Rationally explain your recommendations and qualifications. Don’t take it personally and don’t let your ego get in the way.”
Marketing yourself can sometimes be described as an ongoing lesson in breaking through barriers, which is the determined person’s way of handling what can seem like a constant stream of rejection. Sometimes telling someone you can do it better, faster or cheaper is not enough. There’s the matter of getting a key decision-maker to answer your phone call or make that vital introduction. There’s the preparation and follow-up and the all-important process of winning the client’s trust. Further complicating the communications procedure are issues like scheduling or the all-imposing spouse or partner who appears to be more of a barrier to keep you from moving forward. Hurdles like these can weaken the most durable egos. How does one circumvent the barriers and get the client to “yes” while putting his often-bruised ego to work in the process?
“A strong and healthy ego is indicative of someone secure in who he is and confident in his ability to communicate and be believed. This is typical of the top 1 percent of salespeople we have studied,” says Jacques Werth, who examined the sales-performance processes of top salespeople in 23 different industries during a 40-year period for his book, “High Probability Selling.”